With a positive forecast (both wind and ice) we made the early decision to depart just over 24 hours after arriving in Cambridge Bay so had lots to do. Aside fuel and propane which we had got immediately on arrival the previous day we had water and fresh food on our list; plus showers and wifi if possible. On Wednesday evening we had investigated the layout of the town. With fairly considerable government investment the public buildings were new, the homes well laid out and well kept and a general air of financial stability is sensed in Cambridge Bay. Clearly Canada views it as a strategic Arctic foothold. However, a young population, with children fairly rebellious, noisy and inquisitive brings its own issues. No one is keen to leave their boats here as anything that isn't secured down will walk. Don't get me wrong, this is not an inner city ghetto, much of it is cultural and relates to ensuring everything is put to good use!
One of the first persons I met when ashore on Thursday morning was the very affable David Scott-Cowper. I had read his book prior to leaving the UK, he was the first person to single handedly transverse the North West Passage in a converted lifeboat, taking three years to succeed. He now is on his 5th passage, highly experienced in these waters and now has 'Polar Bound', a purpose built motor yacht.
At midday, the West bound group of yachts departed together, leaving just Polar Bound, Empiracus (who planned to winter here) and ourselves, plus the group of Irish Rowers and Australian rower / sailors - both teams of which were finishing their trip here and busy arranging to get their assorted craft back home and find flights to normality.
As we set about sorting stores out, a young man called Corey said hello. He explained he was local, having moved here 15 years ago. It also turned out that he was one of the most generous and welcoming people we have met so far. Firstly he popped home and delivered a fresh joint of meat, some chocolate and salad dressing to us. Then opened his home to us to use the showers, access the internet, feed us with fresh coffee and food. He is married to a local inuit, who was away with four of the five children at her parents. Amongst his array of jobs (everyone holds down as many jobs as they need to survive), he is the local car / skidoo hire company, a local town taxi & the town planner. As a result he loaned a pick up truck to Karen to run the stores down to the boat from the adjacent "Northern Store" (supermarket). Corey, if you read this… all of us aboard Dodo's Delight send our best wishes and heartfelt thanks!
Being in such a small town, you are constantly stopped by people inquisitive as to what we are up to. Likewise the chat on the pier was full of banter between the various crews. Not quite the same as the dockside experience you would find in Cowes or the Hamble after a good spring series race; but the talk of grizzlies, polars, whales and ice kept us all amused as did the view that at least four of the assorted boats had an internet stalker!
The Irish rowers, on finding flights out on Friday kindly passed over a gift of a full hind leg from a Musk Ox which they in turn had been handed by a local who claimed to have too much of it following a successful hunting session. It looked like we were sorted in the red meat stakes. Then in addition; Paul, Dennis, Kevin & off loaded two bin-bags from their boat full of pasta, porridge, rice and toilet rolls and passed this across to us.
Meanwhile Bob had taken delivery of fresh water from the tanker, and had been charged Can$75 / gallon… a little steep he thought once he had sat down at the chart table to check his credit card statement… it should have been 75 / cents! It was quickly rectified.
As we were about to depart Cambridge Bay, both Polar Bound and Empiracus added more unwanted stores to those of the Irish so that Dodo'd Delight was awash with food. By 1740 hrs we had slipped our lines and were leaving the dock, with the intention of the next habited stop being in Greenland.
There was some crew tension as we departed, an indication of the departure time being brought forward an hour or so without any real communication, the skipper losing some personal kit (to be found some days later in his locker!) and the differing personalities; some excitable & talkative, others more reserved perhaps needing a little more time away from one another during the stopover. However, depute occasional tensions, very quickly such situations dissipate and laughter and ease settles in once more.
That evening I cooked some of the Musk Ox - it was tough - very tough, not my best culinary output. Prior to sunset, I checked the foredeck to find half the fuel canisters not lashed down on the starboard deck, the same side as the water filler, fortunately still seas meant nothing had gone over the side. For the first night of the trip we had a cloudless night. The moonlight was stunning with such clarity you felt you could touch it. It was easy to helm as the northern star was so bright and clear.
Friday 30 August
From Cambridge Bay we passed Victoria Island, Back Point, Anderson Bay, Enterprise Island and Macready Point. Throughout Friday the wind was very light, at times the sea mirror like but temperatures cold. Small ice crystals were visible on the sea surface. As we motored through the aptly named "Icebreaker Channel" we gradually turned more northerly. It is here that the British really have done themselves and the whole "Victorian Empire" thing proud… by naming some islands not after an heroic explorer, or a long lost cousin or even a mistress, but: "The Royal Geographic Islands". I guess this allows me to name some as I feel.
I found a book, otherwise unknown about, hiding behind some stores. On investigation it looked an interesting read (Linda Greenlaw's "The Hungry Sea"). Only problem was that most of the pages had been glued together with mastic at some stage in the past. With the bread knife in one hand, the book in the other, I separated the 180 odd pages in order to make a start on it.
It was warm during the day allowing me to dry out my sleeping bag, the constant fight of condensation always being on my mind when temperatures rise and give me the opportunity to dry things out. Whilst yup forward, I did a deck check and found the holding nut to the bolt on the mast step was missing and the bolt working its way out. I found a bolt in the hardware box and made it good. In heavy weather, with a pounding sea and no bolt at the mast heel the danger was the mast heel "slipping out" of the step… and consequentially some fairly fatal conclusions to the mast. At the same time tI found a shackle pin loose holding the reefing pennants, again this was made good.
We knew that as we closed in on Victoria Strait the ice may become a problem. By my 2200-2359 hr watch, whilst weather conditions were good, visibility was hampered with the moon rising dead ahead. Small growlers, with no light reflection were in out path, and at times you only had a 100m warning. By my close of watch the Bellot Strait lay 145 nm away and we were closing in on the Boothia Peninsula.
Saturday 31 August
I went on watch at 0600 hrs, to an increasing wind from the SSE. I unfurled the genoa, and gybed it allowing fairly fast downwind sailing, goosenecked (mainsail to port, genoa to starboard). With the help of Bob on deck we poled out the genoa and began a decent sail with boat speed in the region of 7 kts. We had made the decision to pass up a narrow channel between the Tasmania Islands to the west of the Boothia Peninsula. The Canadian charts continue to make interesting reference to the magnetic variation we should expect in this region. Being close to the magnetic north pole, the variation and fluctuation can be confusing and great. The charts simply make a statement in large, bold print: "MAGNETIC VARIATION USELESS". As a result there are often confusing debate between the helmsman (looking at the compass by the wheel) and the navigator (looking at one or all of the three GPS's at the chart table) as to which actual heading is required.
As we approached the Tasmania Islands the snow came down. The Shortland Channel entrance is visibly quite hard to spot, the approach gives the impression you are heading into a bay simply surrounded with hills. Using the GPS and radar we closed into the narrow channel that opens at the head of the bay and motored into a heard sea and oncoming ice. A favourable tide pushed us up the channel. The channel has a small group of inlets on the western side within the Tasmania Islands. It was here in 2012 that Dodo's Delight and another yacht, Northwind, sheltered from a gale, and where Northwind had subsequently lost her anchor and chain. Despite two days of trawling the sea bed, neither boat managed to find the lost anchor. As a result, we ensured our anchor had a tripping line attached to ensure an easy retrieval should ours become entangled with it. On approaching it I felt that the conditions were not good; too much depth, an onshore wind and the ever familiar small growlers and brash ice being brought in with it. To the northwest of this bay lay a second, surrounded by hills except to the direct west where the land sloped down to a valley. More sheltered and with improved depths we slowly motored in and dropped anchor.
The bay was ideal - with one exception - the small ice floes had a tendency to come into the bay on the tide; from the north they would then circle south, then west and then out again to the east. Initially catching us, our tripping line and being more of a hassle than threat. We have on board three long wooden poles with metal heads. These are called 'Tuk's' and are used to prod small ice away. We used these initially to help the blocks flow away in the tide. It gave me an opportunity to go for a quick 'ice walk'. We moved further into the head of the bay and this alleviated the problem.
The landscape has changed at long last. The coast rises to hills, with all types of rock formations: Steep cliffs, jagged spikes, rolling plateaus and tundra vegetation in light greens, deep browns and beiges. On climbing the mast, to the top, I took photos of our surroundings and was drawn ton the view to the west. Through the low valley I could spot the open sea to the the west across the island. That being the Franklin Strait. It was a good spot to take the obligatory crew photo. the contrasting colours, landscapes, ice and snow and the change from daylight, through dusk to night created this place as a truly beautiful anchorage. One that has made this entire trip worth it alone. It reminded me so much, not in any physical similarities, but to the comfort and security that it offered us. A very special place with no name other than the Tasmania islands to which it belonged….
©. Richard Nicolson 2013